Brought to you, as always, courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito’s Vodka, and the exhilaration that comes with successfully threading the needle of achieving a singular goal while simultaneously falling woefully short of expectations. What do you call the person with the lowest passing score of the bar exam? A lawyer. What will we call the person who wins the most divisive, contentious election of our lifetime? The president. What do I call yesterday’s season opener against Louisiana Tech? A win.
Football is a beautiful game because of its nuance and because of its numbers, but when it comes to results, football still operates in binary. Wins and losses. Ones and Zeros. And after one game, Arkansas did what was necessary, AND NOT ONE THING MORE, to ensure its one and its zero were ordered correctly. 1-0.
What [CENSORED] and his staff and his players learn from Louisiana Tech will become evident over the next few weeks. Correct the mistakes that can be corrected. Mitigate the weaknesses that can be mitigated. And the issues that cannot be corrected nor mitigated? Well, work like hell on those as well, guys.
Correct what can be corrected. This means playing with the offensive identity that this team assumed with such confidence in the last half of 2015. Establish the run, utilize play action. More specifically, establish the draw, utilize play action. After a decade of Houston Nutt and the Pavlovian disgust that the phrase “third down draw” summons in all Arkansas fans, it’s time to learn to love this play again, because it is absolutely the key to success for the Razorbacks offense. That one breath at the beginning of the play where the defense doesn’t know what the hell is about to happen and the offense isn’t giving anything away? That’s it. That’s the moment. So much of what success this offense will have comes from that breath. It’s the football equivalent to the pause at the top of a good golf swing, and every bit as critical. Roy McAvoy’s “nod to the gods” wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. Arkansas does it so well that it actually creates opportunities for them to do other things well. Dan Enos cannot, cannot, cannot forget that.
Dan Enos DID forget that yesterday, though, at least for significant chunks of the game. That’s what allowed Louisiana Tech to pin their ears back, and what prevented Arkansas from punishing the Bulldogs when they did. The Hogs’ longest run from scrimmage was 14 yards. Their longest pass play was 18 yards. If the draw game were utilized effectively, BOTH of those numbers would be larger. A game without one single chunk play is a recipe for disaster for this team, and underscores just how lucky Arkansas was to dodge yesterday’s bullet.
Mitigate the weaknesses that you can mitigate. This means recognizing that you have an inexperienced quarterback, and doing everything you can to make sure he is setup for success. This means maybe not calling a 20-yard out on 3rd and 18 in the first possession of his first start. That’s a difficult throw, and Austin Allen is in a difficult spot simply because of his last name. An interception on his first drive as the field general of the offense is the last thing anyone wanted. With a rebuilt and rearranged offensive line to go with that new quarterback, it’s probably best to make sure that there is always a safety valve on pass plays. It’s possible that Austin Allen’s second interception could have been avoided if Rawleigh Williams had been able to release into the vacant middle of the field instead of maintaining his block on a blitzing defender. Maybe he was supposed to. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Regardless, a hurried Allen threw the ball into coverage and the result transformed a potential 21-7 halftime score into a 14-14 tie. NOT IDEAL.
Defensively, Robb Smith and Paul Rhoads must find a way to eliminate the cushion that its secondary is giving opposing receivers without getting eviscerated by big plays, because allowing TCU and Texas A&M and Ole Miss unfettered access to sideline routes is never, ever going to work. They will just keep running them. We know this for a fact. Remember when Hugh Freeze ran the same exact receiver screen three plays in a row in 2012? I know personnel is an issue, but what we saw yesterday is not an option. Coach ‘em up, boys.
Arkansas has experience and play makers in their front seven, and Robb Smith has to figure out not only how to enable those seven to be in position to make plays, but also how to use those seven to make it easier for the back four to make plays. Don’t ask me how, because I’m no expert. Robb Smith is, however. I suspect that the correct answer relies less upon scheme and more upon individual players just making plays. That’s what Dre Greenlaw did yesterday on his interception. That’s what Deatrich Wise and Jeremiah Ledbetter did yesterday when their simultaneous sack sandwich ended Louisiana Tech’s chances and nearly ended their quarterback.
Arkansas bumbled and stumbled yesterday, but they bumbled and stumbled their way to victory. It took Brandon Allen three seasons to remove the patina of “choke artist” that dulled the brightness of what ended up being a successful career. In Austin Allen’s first career start, he orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback featuring a fourth down conversion for a touchdown after facing a 1st & Goal FROM THE 20 just moments before. Allen and his Hogs faced a gut check in their first game of the season, and they responded. They won. They won and we learned a little bit about who this team is. We’ll know a little more after TCU. Maybe a lot more. So I’m holding off on the teeth-gnashing for now. There will be plenty of opportunities for them later in the season. And if there aren’t, well, even better.
I’ll see y’all next week.
Trent Wooldridge will be that guy with enough bourbon. He loves the S-E-C chant and honks because he hates Texas. He puts honey on his pizza, demands aisle seats, and sees quitting golf as more of a hobby than actually playing golf. Follow @twooldridge and track his quest to transform his six-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.